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[whitespace] Trust No One

What the world needs now is Walter Cronkite

By Justin Berton


WALTER CRONKITE visited San Jose last week and was repeatedly mistaken by Bay Area journalists for someone holding the position of Secretary of State Colin Powell. The 85-year-old veteran journalist, it should be noted, wears better suits.

Cronkite was in town to speak on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce's "Legends and Leaders" series at the Fairmont Hotel. The press release announcing the event put the distinguished journalist in rarefied air, noting that he'd been on television "more times than Michael Jordan, Jay Leno and Bart Simpson combined."

A few minutes before Walter arrived in the crowded suite, local members of the press hobknobbed and made small talk around the bar. "Better hurry," joked a local business columnist, "I've only got a few minutes to get sloshed."

In the corner of the room, two on-air personalities from Channels 7 and 4 traded recent war stories. "Yesterday," said one colleague in an exhausted voice, "I interviewed victims' families." Her colleague nodded in sympathy. "Me too. Me too."

After Walter made his entrance to bright cameras and plenty of applause, Jim Cunneen, the Chamber's president and CEO, introduced the "Most trusted man in America."

"He has effectively set the tone for an entire generation of journalists," Cunneen noted. The amassed media members happily agreed.

Reporters drew numbers and were allowed to ask only one question. The first question, from the Mercury News, had to be repeated. "Could you speak up?" Walter asked, "I'm a little hard of hearing--No, that's not true. I'm deaf as a post."

The first television guy, from KNTV, asked the veteran television anchor, "Is America ready for a sustained war where the enemy is hidden?"

Another reporter followed up with, "Do you think Americans have the stomach for a long, sustained war?"

A columnist from the Business Journal wanted to know if Walter thought the government's response to the terrorist attacks would result in a loss of civil liberties. Walter answered the question at length before getting cut off by Cunneen. The columnist huffed later, "That was the longest, most rambling response I've ever heard."

A reporter from radio station KEZR asked Walter, "When do you think we'll get back to life as we knew it--if we can get back to life as we knew it?"

"I don't know the answer to that," Walter said politely. "No one does."

A guy from Channel 5 asked, "How worried are you about the future of our country?" to which Walter responded, "I'm not worried about the country pulling together."

The lady from Channel 4 wanted Walter to give the audience a hint of what it's like working the camera in times like these. "Talk about the stress the people who are reporting these stories are under," she urged him.

One reporter asked Walter about coverage during the presidential election, yielding one of Walter's more revealing answers. "The American public is getting so much news, there's so much to absorb, but very little of it is significant or important." The media members moved awkwardly. "The problem with people today," Walter said, "is they get the majority of their information from television."

The next question, from a television reporter: "How much coverage is too much coverage?"

Answer: "I don't know. I don't know that anyone could answer that."

Walter went on to say that he had no taste for television reporters who asked the painfully obvious "How-do-you-feel? question." Walter said he was watching television back in New York where a teenager had created a shrine for fallen firefighters. "The reporter asked, so help me, 'Why did you do this?'"

The room cooed with amazement at the poor judgment of their colleague.

Before he left, Walter was asked one simple question: When you watch television, who do you trust?

Walter slapped a knee and kicked his head back with a laugh. "You don't really expect me to answer that, do you?"

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From the September 27-October 3, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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